How Kitsap Strong is empowering students to change education systems

Promise Partner had a village of people helping her graduate from high school and enroll in and complete her degree program. Now a Future Bound Facilitator for Kitsap Strong, Promise is working to ensure every student in the community has the same access to these relationships and support.

“I had trusted teachers, counselors, and mentors who guided me and connected me, from applying for financial aid to accessing mental health resources. I want to ensure that every young person has caring adults in their life to accompany them.”

Kitsap Strong is a collective impact initiative of over 100 community partners in Kitsap and North Mason counties, including schools in six school districts, working to improve residents’ well-being and educational attainment. Kitsap Strong’s Future Bound program is all about helping high schoolers design the future they want.

“Our Future Bound efforts are a community response to help students develop the capabilities, connections, and credentials they need to flourish,” shared Promise, who works with a group of 10 students from high schools in Kitsap and North Mason counties. This Youth Leadership Team, which receives a stipend for their participation, set some goals for their work: to gather data from their peers and to develop recommendations for schools and the community.

“We want our future bound efforts to be directed by those with the real expertise of the need – students themselves! We want to work collaboratively with youth to design solutions that are meaningful and will engage young people.”

Asking students what they need and want

Over the last year, the Youth Leadership Team conducted outreach to students, teachers, and administrators at their schools and prepared for and hosted a Future Bound Convening to share their recommendations to over 100 school and community leaders.

Allison McDermott speaks to a group at the Future Bound Convening in Bremerton on June 13th, 2023. Photo credit: Cristina Roark of Kitsap Strong.

We asked Promise and three members of the Youth Leadership Team to share a few more details about this work.

  • Allison McDermott is an 11th grader at Kingston High School who is also participating in Running Start. Allison’s main hobby is playing saxophone, but she’s also a film fanatic who is interested in producing or directing her own movies someday.
  • Eden Parry is an 11th grader at North Kitsap High School. She is captain of the girls’ swim team.
  • Lexi Cochran is a sophomore at Klahowya Secondary School. She is active in the Honors Society, swim, basketball and tennis. She’s also in her 11th year of violin and was first chair in the K-Phil orchestra.

All three students emphasized how much they learned about the value of bringing in real-world expertise and experience in a project.

“Each element that we chose to present was something we saw every day in our own communities and schools and that tied into our own lives, so we were happy to voice our opinions as well as share on behalf of many other youth in the community going through similar things,” Lexi said.

“As a current student getting closer to graduating, I see the issues happening in our schools happening from a ‘front row seat.’ They also matter to me because I seek to have a good and valuable learning experience in my education and want others to have the same,” Allison added.

From left: Eden Parry, Leyla Noel and Ebony Noel pose at the Future Bound Convening in Bremerton on June 13, 2023. Photo credit: Cristina Roark of Kitsap Strong.

Here are three things the Youth Leadership Team recommended:

  1. More academic and mental health counselors

    Based on data from the youth survey and from listening sessions, combined with their personal experience, the Youth Leadership Team recommend that high schools have more academic counselors, as well as separate mental health counselors, so students can receive more support. They also recommended more support groups for BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) and LGBTQ+ students, along with expanding multicultural activities.

  2. More in-school programs about college and careers

    Students also want schools to improve and expand their future bound activities – especially those available during the school day. That includes mandatory in-school presentations on financial aid, and college and career fairs that take place during the school day. “It is very important that every student gets a chance to learn about the opportunities they have with financial aid,” said Eden. “We emphasized the need for this to happen during school hours, as not everyone has the means (specifically transportation) to come before or after school.”

  3. Better connections to career interests

    The Youth Leadership Team suggested that the High School & Beyond Plan could better link a student’s career interest to the steps they need to take to explore that career. They also suggested gathering input from students on how to improve the Plan and make it more engaging. To help with exposure to career pathways, students recommended a paid summer internship program and job shadow program that would allow high school students to observe several careers first-hand.

Advice for community partners

Allison McDermott takes the stage at the Future Bound Convening in Bremerto on June 13th, 2023. Photo credit: Cristina Roark of Kitsap Strong.

We asked Promise and all three students what advice they’d give to organizations like the Gates Foundation and other local groups interested in engaging students. We loved what they had to say.

  • When it comes to collaborating with students, Allison notes that you must ensure students feel like they have a safe environment and an invitation to share their perspective.
  • “Those opportunities have to be provided for the student. The student has to have the chance to speak out in the first place.”
  • Lexi and Eden welcomed community participation in schools and school board meetings.
  • “Community partners can better engage students like us by coming to schools, putting surveys out there for students to take, and inviting youth to talk and voice opinions whether at school board events or emails to those making the decisions,” said Lexi.
  • “You can engage in community conversations and attend school board meetings to understand what decisions are being made and how they affect students,” added Eden.
  • “Moving forward, I want to lean into action with the youth so that schools and community are not just listening to their voices but actually making changes based on their recommendations,” said Promise. She encourages other organizations to join her in “creating and cultivating the culture of a student group with care and intention, supporting students’ leadership development, and moving from student voice to student power so they can effect real change.”

In this current school year, the Youth Leadership Team will work on implementing these recommendations and designing solutions to improve the well-being and educational attainment of Kitsap and North Mason youth.

We can’t wait to see what their work inspires.

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